Traditional: 8:45 AM
Contemporary: 11:00 AM
We offer membership classes at All Saints twice a year, in the fall and spring. Membership in a particular Christian congregation is an interesting phenomenon… Traditionally, it was a prerequisite for basic participation in milestones of Christian faith and life, such as baptism of a child, confirmation, partaking of Holy Communion, being married in the church, or Christian burial. In recent decades, some church bodies have construed membership not as an initial point of entry into the life of the congregation, but a point of deep commitment, undertaken only when fully immersed in the life and leadership of the congregation. Some consider membership essential to their Christian identity, and others consider “signing on the dotted line” of membership completely irrelevant to their life of faith. While there is no single Scriptural position on formal membership in a local church congregation, I offer here some reflections on membership and how it can benefit our life together as Christians and as All Saints Lutheran Church.
First, what does the Bible say?
The Bible doesn’t talk about membership in a local Christian congregation, though it occasionally mentions people who are “members” of a synagogue, from which many of our congregational customs are derived. More important in Scripture is the idea that all Christians are “members” of the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12–13 reads, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” From Scripture we learn that we cannot function by ourselves as individual free agents, independent of the rest of the Church, which is Christ’s body. This would be akin to an elbow deciding that it doesn’t need to be connected to an arm in order to function as intended! Our very nature, as baptized children of God – according to Scripture, is that we would be connected to God’s people, who are connected to the “head,” which is Christ.
Second, how does our Biblical worldview inform us?
God has a habit of doing his work in our world through ordinary physical means: Jesus comes in the flesh to give his life for us – suffering in the flesh on a Roman cross – in order that we might be forgiven and made right before God. Just as the (very physical) rite of circumcision set apart God’s people in the Old Testament, so baptism accomplishes this purpose in Jesus’ new covenant, connecting us to Jesus’ death and resurrection and claiming us as his children. God’s word is combined with ordinary water to accomplish this miracle. Then Jesus gives his true body and blood to us in Holy Communion, so that when we are taught that we are the body of Christ, we understand that we have indeed partaken of his body, and participated together in a tangible way with his passion and resurrection. All of this supports a Christian faith in which belief is undergirded by physical actions and tangible stuff. God works faith through his word in the context of this physical world he has created. Therefore it is consistent with our biblical worldview that our membership in the invisible Church around the world, granted to us at baptism, would take tangible and practical shape in the context of an actual, physical congregation in which we can receive God’s Word and Sacrament, following Jesus as disciples together.
Third, what are some practical reasons for membership?
Of course, entering into a membership agreement with a congregation doesn’t make you a Christian. It doesn’t even make you a better Christian. Only faith in Jesus Christ, freely given by the Holy Spirit, makes you a Christian. But as soon as we look at the life to which that faith calls us, it begins with baptism. And baptism, as we have seen, immediately connects us, and calls us to nurture connection with, a local church.
Fourth, what are some incorrect reasons for pursuing membership?
Fifth, is it the right time?
Membership is a way that we live out our baptism, and thus our new identity as members of the Body of Christ, fully embracing the responsibility and mutual accountability that comes with that identity. It’s a serious decision. So before joining, you should:
If and when you have satisfied these questions, I encourage you to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and become an official member of All Saints. It’s the practical way in which we express our biblical and practical understanding of God’s work in our lives through baptism, bringing us into the Body of Christ in a real and tangible manner. But if you are still working through these questions, please do not hurry, and do not feel pressured. You are always welcome here, as a part of our worship and our service. We are glad to come alongside you on your journey of faith, and support you as you seek to follow Jesus!
Thanks, and God bless,
Pastor John L. Scheusner
All Saints Lutheran Church